Diane Quail: My Experience at The Belmont Stakes
When my father told me the general admission section of Belmont Park was going to be a zoo on Saturday, I thought he was exaggerating – he wasn’t. When there is a horse going for the Triple Crown, everyone wants to witness it. California Chrome would have been the first horse to obtain the Triple Crown in 36 years.
I figured I could handle general admission – I mean I have been to numerous horse races in my life. My cousins picked me up bright and early, we got our Dunkin Donuts, and we were off. The traffic getting into the park was not as bad as parking which took a good half hour.
Finally we got into the park and my adventure began. My cousins had two preferred grandstand seats, I was stuck with the general admission tickets, but I am not only a horse racing fan, I am used to large crowds.
The general admission section was packed even during the 4th race with very little room to breathe let alone move. With a little pushing and standing on my toes I was able to watch the races. I was surrounded by two types of people, the ones who knew it was going to be a long day standing and the people who wanted to look like they had clubhouse seats at the Kentucky Derby. Huge sunhats and all.
My cousins took one look at me, laughed, and said “have fun.”
Being a reporter, I have had professors and mentors always tell me one thing, ‘Keep passing go until you get put in jail.” The fact that my cousin also had his motorized scooter with him certainly gave me an edge. I marched right up to the security guard and said we need an elevator, turns out the only one available was the press elevator.
Step one: complete.
My hair is a mix between a 70’s Afro and Shakira, making it really hard to tell if I had a lanyard around my neck with my pass. I held my notebook and program up to my chest making it impossible to see that I had no ticket.
Upstairs it was much quieter. Men and women walked around in designer suits and dresses. I have never seen such elaborate hats in my life. These were the big timers. Owners, trainers, families of owners and trainers, these people knew horses. So I thought.
Once again, my cousin’s scooter saved me. We just kept walking until someone stopped us, the usher for our row. Here is where I began to panic, but my older cousin was prepared.
“This is my brother’s one-on-one aid,” she said. “He is able to walk down to his seat, but she is going to sit in his scooter when she is not placing his bets and getting his drinks.”
They went down to their seats and noticed no one was sitting next to them. I watched the race from the top of the section. Finally a clear view of the track, it was massive and filled with history. Our section was right above the finish line and starting line for the big race.
My cousin came up with my other cousin’s ticket and gave me his list of bets. This was my next challenge.
When betting at The Meadowlands or any other track there is never a wait and the possibility of being shut out is rare. Not at the biggest race of the year.
I read my cousins’ bets quickly and looked at the program to figure out my own on line, but the line was not moving. 10 minutes to post. Still no movement. The men and women alike all began getting irritated. ‘Hurry Up,” they shouted. As the day progressed and the combination of alcohol, frustration and more spectators, the words shouted became more vivid.
The line slowly moved and it was my turn to place the bet and I learned what the ultimate problem at the Belmont Stakes was. These tellers are not only not used to having this many people at the racetrack, but they were not all regulars, just simply temp hires for the big day. Just like I would at the Meadowlands or Monmouth Park I said to the teller “I have three 2 dollar trifecta boxes, 5-6-2 and 4-5-2.” The woman looked at me in panic ‘wait what was the second one, how much was it for, do you want a box wait what numbers again?” she kept asking me. After numerous repeated tries I got my tickets 2 minutes left to post and I was getting shouted at.
Never in my life have I been yelled at for being slow placing my bets especially because I don’t think I have ever spent more than 5 dollars on one bet. This clearly was an error by the park’s staffing.
I showed the usher my ticket and proudly walked down the stairs all the way to the front row. I could see everything.
Below me was the heard of general admission ticket holders, pushing and shoving just to get a spot for when the 11th race began. There were a few people next to us and behind us all dressed up. These people were clearly not from the New York, New Jersey area, their accents giving it away.
My cousin brought binoculars, but they were only needed to see the backstretch. I had a perfect view of the track. Belmont’s track is much larger than any track I have ever seen. It’s greenery made it look a little like Monmouth Park, but it was much more elaborate.
As the day continued you would see various types of people, fans who were up a lot of money and fans that were down a lot of money. I was part of category two. What I learned after the race was unlike standardbred horses, it is better for Thoroughbred’s to race less frequently. At least my dad instilled in my head, bring 20 dollars for the track and hide your debit card when I turned 18.
Finally it was race 10 and everything was going great. L.L. Cool J came on and performed in hopes of getting spectators pumped up to see California Chrome. However, my cousin and I were the only ones up singing and dancing in our section. Below, however, the general admission fans were all dancing and cheering.
One hour to post.
Unfortunately, the owner of my seat came. He was quite nice, had a southern accent and clearly had more money on this race than I make annually. He didn’t even question me and why I was in his seat which I was shocked considered the amount of fights over seats I have seen in my lifetime.
30 minutes till post.
The man was all over the place talking business with some other nicely dressed men. He finally asked if we were short an extra seat, we told him I was an aid and he just smiled and said, “we are all here to see Chrome.” He then complimented me on my purple dress. “Purple for Chrome,” he said. Finally someone noticed my attempt at being cute.
Everyone was starting to tense up. The moment we had all been waiting on was slowly approaching. Some of us spent big money on the seats and even bigger money on California Chrome. My cousin actually flew in from California just to see this horse.
Our bets were placed and all there was left to do was wait. All of a sudden the horn was blown. This was it. The post parade, I have seen various post parades, but this was different.
I had that feeling in the bottom of my stomach, the one where you are so nervous and excited at the same time. I could not stop smiling, but I was not happy. I was nervous and this was not even my horse. We were packed in our row, but I kept looking down and seeing how much worse general admission was.
I can honestly say I have not been this nervous during a post parade since I heard the words “In the 8 hole we have JamaicanMe Wild Owned by Joe Quail Stables, Trained by Joe Quail and Driven by Joe Quail.” That was my father’s first race back driving in 20 years, since I was born.
All of a sudden everyone began to cheer. Oh my god I thought to myself there he was. California Chrome came out of the paddock and he looked as perfect as a horse could look. He had a certain mannerism to him that screamed this is my race, but gave off that California calmness.
He just looked calm and ready. Something you would think was important. The man next to me kept saying in his southern accent “nice and calm Chrome, stay nice and calm.”
He went into the gate without a problem. Looking back he was too calm. Horse racing isn’t baseball, the pitcher needs to remain calm, the horse needs to be riled up and ready to race.
One by one the horses entered the gate. That stupid smile was on my face still. I was here. I could be witnessing history. California Chrome had the two hole, the perfect spot for the perfect trip. My horse always won when she had the two hole. This race was his to lose.
0 minutes to post.
This was it, the race began. Everyone jumped out of their seats and watched California Chrome. He looked good. He was sitting back in 3rd, the perfect place for a race this long, but then something happened.
It is great to sit in 3rd or 4th through the beginning, but the other horses boxed him in. He had the perfect spot on the inside rail, but he could not do anything. He had to go outside. This made his trip longer and any real horse fan knew on the backstretch Chrome didn’t have it. He wasn’t coming out on top.
Slowly all the spectators began to realize it too. Not only did they lose money, but we will now have to wait until next year to see if a horse can win The Triple Crown.
America’s horse came in 4th place. He didn’t even place in the top three. Everyone looked defeated. Even though he wasn’t my horse, I felt like my horse lost. There wasn’t a person there who didn’t want Chrome to win.
He still looked beautiful. The journey ended and the park was remotely silent. A long shot won the Belmont Stakes.
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